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Comparisons between the Women's United Soccer Association, Women's Professional Soccer, and National Women's Soccer League

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A seemingly viable market for the sport became apparent after the United States women's national soccer team won the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup.[1] Feeding on the momentum of their victory, the twenty national team players, in partnership with John Hendricks of the Discovery Channel, sought out the investors, markets, and players necessary to form the WUSA, an eight-team league, in February 2000. The league played its first season in April 2001, and was the world's first women's soccer league in which all players were paid professionals.[2]

The U.S. Soccer Federation approved membership of WUSA as a sanctioned Division I women's professional soccer league on August 18, 2000. WUSA had previously announced plans to begin play in 2001 in eight cities across the country, including: Atlanta, the Bay Area, Boston, New York City, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Diego and Washington, D.C. Led by investor John Hendricks, WUSA had also forged ahead on a cooperation agreement that will see the new league work side-by-side with Major League Soccer to help maximize the market presence and success of both Division I leagues.[3]

WUSA played for three full seasons and suspended operations on September 15, 2003, shortly after the conclusion of the third season due to financial problems and lack of public interest in the sport.[4]

Unlike WUSA, Women's Professional Soccer attempted a more local approach and slower growth. In addition, the WPS attempted to have a closer relationship with Major League Soccer in order to cut costs. Most teams considered the first season a moderate success, despite many losing more money than planned. However, most teams began to see problems in 2010. Overall attendance for 2010 was noticeably down from 2009, teams struggled financially, and the WPS changed leadership by the end of the season.

The success of the United States women's national team at the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup resulted in an upsurge in attendance league-wide as well as interest in new teams for the 2012 season. However, several internal organization struggles, including an ongoing legal battle with magicJack-owner Dan Borislow and a lack of resources invested in the league, led to the suspension of the 2012 season announced in January 2012.

On May 18, 2012, the WPS announced that the league had officially ceased operations after three seasons.

After the WPS folded in 2012, the U.S. Soccer Federation announced a round-table discussion of the future of women's professional soccer in the United States. The meeting resulted in the planning of a new league set to launch in 2013 with 12 to 16 teams from the WPS, the W-League, and the WPSL. In November 2012, the USSF, Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) and the Mexican Football Federation (FMF) announced that there would be eight teams in a new women's professional soccer league to be funded by the USSF. The USSF would fund up to 24 players, the CSA up to 16, and the FMF a minimum of 12.[5] Four former WPS teams – the Western New York Flash, Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars, and Sky Blue FC – were joined by four other teams for the inaugural season in 2012. One of those teams, the Portland Thorns FC, is affiliated with the MLS Portland Timbers and shares its ownership and facilities.[6]

Each NWSL club is allowed a minimum of 18 players on their roster, with a maximum of 20 players allowed at any time during the season.[7] Initially, each team's roster included up to three allocated USWNT players, two Mexico women's national team players, and two Canada women's national team players via NWSL Player Allocation. Mexico no longer allocates players to the NWSL following the 2017 establishment of its own women's professional league, Liga MX Femenil. Each team also has, as of 2016, four spots for international players, though these spots can be traded. The rest of the roster must be filled by players from the United States.

Establishment[edit]

WUSA WPS NWSL
As a result of the US women's national team's (USWNT) first-place showing in the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup, a seemingly viable market for the sport germinated. Feeding on the momentum of their victory, the twenty USWNT players, in partnership with John Hendricks of the Discovery Channel, sought out the investors, markets, and players necessary to form the eight-team league. The twenty founding players were Michelle Akers, Brandi Chastain, Tracy Ducar, Lorrie Fair, Joy Fawcett, Danielle Fotopoulos, Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Shannon MacMillan, Tiffeny Milbrett, Carla Overbeck, Cindy Parlow, Christie Pearce, Tiffany Roberts, Briana Scurry, Kate (Markgraf) Sobrero, Tisha Venturini, Saskia Webber, and Sara Whalen. Initial investment in the league was provided by the following:[8] Time Warner Cable ($5 million), Cox Enterprises ($5 million), Cox Communications ($5 million), Amos Hostetter, Jr. ($5 million), Comcast Corporation ($5 million), John Hendricks and Comcast Corporation ($2.5 million each), and Amos Hostetter, Jr. and John Hendricks ($2.5 million each). The US Soccer Federation approved membership of the league as a sanctioned Division 1 women's professional soccer league on August 18, 2000.[9] After the folding of Women's United Soccer Association, which played its third and final full season in 2003, WUSA Reorganization Committee was formed in September of that year. The committee led to the founding in November 2004 of the non-profit organization, Women's Soccer Initiative, Inc. (WSII), whose stated goal was "promoting and supporting all aspects of women's soccer in the United States", including the founding of a new professional league.[10] Attempts to relaunch WUSA in full fell through in 2004 (when the league's member teams played in two WUSA Festivals instead) and 2005.[11] In June 2006, WSII announced the relaunch of the league for the 2008 season.[12] In December 2006, the organization announced that it reached an agreement with six owner-operators for teams based in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Washington, DC, and a then-unnamed city.[13] Later, Boston and New York/New Jersey were announced as other markets to have teams. In September 2007, the launch was pushed back from Spring of 2008 to 2009 to avoid clashing with 2007 Women's World Cup and the 2008 Olympic Games and to ensure that all of the teams were fully prepared for long-term operations.[14] On May 27, 2008, the league announced that it would expand to Philadelphia for the 2010 season, with the franchise likely sharing facilities with MLS's Philadelphia Union. Despite being the eighth named team, the league still considered adding an eighth team to play in the league's inaugural season.[15] An eighth team for the inaugural season was tentatively announced as being located in San Diego,[16] and was finalized later. Still, despite the extra time given to the original five cities for preparations, the Dallas franchise did not materialize, citing stadium issues. Thus the league began with seven teams. After Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) officially folded in April 2012, the United States Soccer Federation (USSF or US Soccer) announced a roundtable for discussion of the future of women's professional soccer in the United States. The meeting, which included representatives from USSF, WPS teams, the W-League (ceased operation in 2015), and the Women's Premier Soccer League (WPSL), was held in June. By November, after much discussion, owners from the Chicago Red Stars, Boston Breakers and US Soccer recruited an additional six teams. Compared to WPS, the teams would intentionally operate at a lower cost structure and manage growth in a sustainable way.[17][18] In November 2012, it was announced that there would be eight teams in a new women's professional soccer league that was yet to be named at the time of the announcement, with national team players subsidized by the USSF, the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) and the Mexican Football Federation (FMF). The three federations would pay for the salaries of their national team players (24 from the US, 16 from Canada, and 12 to 16 from Mexico) to aid the teams in creating world-class rosters while staying under the salary cap. The players would be distributed evenly (as possible) among the eight teams in an allocation process. USSF would be hired through a contract to manage aspects of the league. The teams own the league and periodically revisit the Management relationship with US Soccer and/or others.[19] On November 29, 2012, it was announced that Cheryl Bailey had been named executive director in the new league. Bailey had previously served as general manager of the United States women's national soccer team from 2007 to 2011, which included leading the support staff for the U.S. team during the 2007 and 2011 FIFA Women's World Cups, as well as the 2008 Summer Olympics. During her tenure with the women's national team, she was in charge of all areas of administration including interfacing with clubs, team travel, payroll, and working with FIFA, CONCACAF, and other federations.[20] Nike, Inc. was selected as league sponsor, providing apparel to all teams as well as the game ball.[21]

Timeline[edit]

Season WUSA WPS NWSL
1 Attendance figures were high for the first season, particularly early in the season, though not near the levels organizers were expecting based on the attendance for the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup. The league spent its initial $40m budget, intended to last five years, in just this first season. Each team played a total of 21 games, three against each opponent (either twice at home and once away or vice versa). This caused an uneven schedule with teams hosting either 10 or 11 home games each. The four teams with the most points from the regular season qualified for the playoffs. The regular season champions and runners-up hosted the fourth- and third-placed teams, respectively, in the single-game semifinals on August 18. The winners of the semifinals met at Foxboro Stadium for the final on August 25. Each team played a total of 20 games that are evenly divided between home and away games. Under the following format, each team will play every other team three times either twice at home and once away or once at home and twice away, for a total of 18 games. The remaining two games will be played against two other teams, one at home and one away. The four teams with the most points from the regular season qualified for the playoffs. The third-placed and fourth-placed regular season finishers played each other in the single-match First Round. The winner of the First Round then faced the second-placed regular season finisher in the Super Semifinal, with the winner facing the first-placed regular season finisher in the WPS Final. Including the NWSL's two professional predecessors, Women's Professional Soccer (2009–2011) and the Women's United Soccer Association (2001–2003), this was the seventh overall season of FIFA and USSF-sanctioned top division women's soccer in the United States. The league was (and is) operated by the United States Soccer Federation and receives major financial backing from that body. Further financial backing was provided by the Canadian Soccer Association and the Mexican Football Federation. All three national federations paid the league salaries of many of their respective national team members in an effort to nurture talent in those nations. Each team played a total of 22 games: 11 at home and 11 away. Each team played three other teams (based on an east/west geographical split) four times each: twice at home and twice away. Two other teams twice each: once at home and once away. And the remaining two teams three times each: one twice at home and once away, the other vice versa. The four teams at the end of the season with the most points qualified for the playoffs. Two semifinal games were played on August 24, with the winners advancing to the league final to be played on August 31.[22]
2 Prior to the season the Bay Area CyberRays, the champions in the previous season, changed their name to the San Jose CyberRays. The WUSA All-Star game was played for the first time after the completion of the 2002 season, with the South squad defeating the North 6-1 in front of 14,208 spectators at PGE Park in Portland, Oregon. Rookie Abby Wambach of the Washington Freedom was awarded the game MVP after scoring twice.[23] Each team played a total of 21 games, three against each opponent (either twice at home and once away or vice versa). This caused an uneven schedule with teams hosting either 10 or 11 home games each. The four teams with the most points from the regular season qualified for the playoffs. The regular season champions and runners-up hosted the fourth- and third-placed teams, respectively, in the single-game semifinals on August 17. The winners of the semifinals met at Herndon Stadium for the final on August 24. Two franchises, based in Philadelphia,[24] and Atlanta,[25] joined the league. A potential Dallas franchise is pending upon finding a site at which to play,[26] and WPS is constantly considering other expansion possibilities as well, such as Seattle.[27] The Los Angeles Sol did not return, as that franchise was terminated January 28, 2010 after Anschutz Entertainment Group returned their franchise rights and a buyer was not found.[28] The number of games in the regular season increased from 20 to 24. On May 27, financial problems caused the Saint Louis Athletica to fold. Players became free agents on June 1. The league had announced it would not expand for the 2014 season[29] and was not expected to contract.[30] However, after a push from the Houston Dynamo, the league approved the expansion of the Houston Dash.[31] Each team will play a total of 24 games, 12 home and 12 away. Each teams will play four opponents twice at home and once away, and will play the other four opponents once at home and twice away. The four teams at the end of the season with the most points will qualify for the playoffs. The two semi-final games will be played on the weekend of August 23–24, and the final will be played on August 30.
3 Each team played a total of 21 games, three against each opponent (either twice at home and once away or vice versa). This caused an uneven schedule with teams hosting either 10 or 11 home games each. The four teams with the most points from the regular season qualified for the playoffs. The regular season champions and runners-up hosted the fourth- and third-placed teams, respectively, in the single-game semifinals on August 17. The winners of the semifinals met at Torero Stadium in San Diego, California for the final on August 24. Defending champions FC Gold Pride will not return for the 2011 season.[32] Also not returning for the 2011 season are Chicago Red Stars, which were given a month's deadline to find investors after the original announcement of the teams, but failed to achieve so.[33] The Red Stars will spend 2011 regrouping in the WPSL.[34] New to the league are the Western New York Flash, who are playing in Rochester, New York. Due to a change in ownership, the Washington Freedom were renamed "magicJack", and also moved from the Washington area to Boca Raton in South Florida. In January, Jeff Plush was named NWSL commissioner,[35] replacing Cheryl Bailey. To accommodate the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup the league announced it would reduce the season to 20 games while extending the calendar length into September and take a two-week break from June 7–19.[36] Each team will play a total of 20 games, 10 home and 10 away. Each team will play all opponents twice, once home and once away, plus four opponents an extra time, split two opponents at home and two away. The four teams at the end of the season with the most points will qualify for the playoffs.

Management[edit]

WUSA WPS NWSL
The WUSA played for three full seasons, suspending operations on September 15, 2003, shortly after the conclusion of the third season. Neither television ratings nor attendance met forecasts, while the league spent its initial $40 million budget, planned to last five years, by the end of the first season. Even though the players took salary cuts of up to 30% for the final season, with the founding players (who also held an equity stake in the league) taking the largest cuts, that was not enough to bring expenses under control. In the hopes of an eventual relaunch of the league, all rights to team names, logos, and similar properties were preserved. Efforts to line up new sources of capital and operating funds continued. In June 2004, the WUSA held two "WUSA Festivals" in Los Angeles and Blaine, Minnesota, featuring matches between reconstituted WUSA teams (often with marquee players borrowed from other teams), in order to maintain the league in the public eye and sustain interest in women's professional soccer.[37] WPS commissioner Tonya Antonucci said that unlike WUSA, which had higher expectations and employed a top-down model, WPS would take "a local, grass roots approach", and "a slow and steady growth type of approach", citing WUSA's losses of close to $100 million.[11] She said the new league would have a closer relationship with Major League Soccer, the top men's professional league in the United States, to cut costs on staff and facilities, and for marketing. The team budgets for the inaugural season was $2.5 million.[38] On January 30, 2012, the league announced suspension of the 2012 season, citing several internal organization struggles as the primary cause. Some of these included an ongoing legal battle with ex-franchise owner Dan Borislow, and the lack of resources invested into the league.[39] Prior to the formal announcement, the USSF showed reservation about renewing sanctioning for WPS, citing the sparsity and geographic concentration of WPS team as the main problem. (USSF requires professional, top-division leagues to have at least eight teams over at least three time zones.)[40] Ultimately, USSF granted WPS a waiver on this issue for the third time in WPS's history, on the conditions that WPS expands to six teams by 2013 and eight by 2014.

Player allocation[edit]

WUSA WPS NWSL
The WUSA Founding Player Allocation distributed 24 players from the United States women's national soccer team to the eight founding teams of the WUSA. The initial allocation list was announced on May 24, 2000 and consisted primarily of players from the American team that won the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup the previous year.[41] The league allocated three players from the list of Founding Players based on three criteria: player's interest in playing for a particular team, player's hometown or college town, and competitive balance amongst the teams. The 2000 WUSA Foreign Player Allocation took place on October 30, 2000. It was the first international draft held by Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA) to assign the rights of international players to the eight American-based teams. The 16 players were paired and each team selected one pair. Each team had already been allocated three national team players ("founders") on May 24, 2000.[42] The teams then arranged the order for the foreign player allocation between themselves, using a voting system which took account of the previous allocation.[43] The 16 players to be allocated included some of the top players from around the world. Eight of them, including all four Brazilians, had signed for the league the day before the draft.[44] The players were packaged into pairs as part of an effort to help them adapt to life in America.[45] A 15-round main draft, which also included foreign players, followed on December 10–11, 2000.[46] A supplemental college draft on February 4, 2001 completed the process before the inaugural season began in April 2001.[47] In common with Major League Soccer, WUSA had a single-entity ownership structure. This meant that the league office owned the players' contracts and negotiated all agreements. Each team got an $800,000 salary cap to cover their final roster of 20 players.[42] Player allocation began on September 16, 2008, after the Beijing Olympics in August, when WPS announced the allocation of 21 US national team players, three players to each of the seven teams that began play in the 2009 season.[48] Most players were matched with teams they had some previous connection to, such as hometown, college, WUSA, or W-League affiliation. All of the allocated Americans played in the 2009 season except for Kate Markgraf, who was pregnant at the start of the season. A week later, the league held the 2008 WPS International Draft, in which the seven teams selected four international players each.[49] Four of the first five selections, first pick Formiga (Bay Area), Marta (#3, Los Angeles), Daniela (#4, St. Louis), and Cristiane (#5, Chicago) were Brazilian,[50] and a total of 10 Brazilian players were selected. England's Kelly Smith (#2, Boston) and Japan's Homare Sawa (#6, Washington), and Australia's Sarah Walsh rounded out the first round.[51] The draft order was based on a weighted ranking determined by a vote of league coaches following the U.S. women's national team allocation. A general draft was held in October, followed by a combine for college seniors and undrafted players in December, a post-combine draft in January, and local tryouts by individual teams in February.[52] Originally, each team's roster included up to three allocated American national team players, up to two allocated Mexico women's national team players, and up to two allocated Canadian national team players via the NWSL Player Allocation and subsequent trades.[53] In addition, each team has four spots each season available for international players; these spots may be traded to other teams.[54] The remaining roster spots must be filled by domestic players from the United States. Teams fill their rosters via a number of drafts and 4–6 discovery player signings. Mexico no longer allocates players to the NWSL, having established its own women's league in 2017, and the numbers of allocated players and international players on each team vary each year due to trades. In each season, teams receive a salary cap that limits their total spending on players. The salaries of allocated players from the United States, Canadian, and (formerly) Mexican national teams are paid by their respective federations instead of their NWSL clubs, and do not count against their club's salary cap.[55] Non-allocated players, including international players, also have minimum and maximum salary limits. Players allocated by the US and Canadian federations are exempt from these limits. The same applied to allocated Mexican players, but the arrangement between the Mexican federation and the NWSL ended when Mexico established its own women's league in 2017.[56][57][58] Starting in 2019, the maximum roster size was expanded to 22 and the minimum to 20, with an additional four supplemental spots for players earning minimum salary that do not count against the salary cap.[59] With this change, teams must carry at least 20 players and could carry as many as 26 players at any given time. The league introduced significant changes to its compensation guidelines before the 2020 season.[60] In addition to a sizable increase in the salary cap and the salary limits for unallocated players, teams now can purchase up to $300,000 in "allocation money" in excess of the salary cap to invest in qualified current or future players; allocation money can be traded.[61] Multi-year contracts (up to three years plus one option year) are now permitted, year-round housing becomes mandatory, and the cap for permitted team assistance has been removed.

Players' union[edit]

WUSA WPS NWSL
None WPS players were represented by the Women’s Professional Soccer Players Union (WPSPU), an independent, democratic labor organization run by and for the players. The WPSPU was certified and recognized by the league on September 8, 2010 in Washington, DC. Jennifer Hitchon served as Executive Director and Robert H. Stropp of Mooney, Green, Baker & Saindon, PC, was General Counsel.[62] The players who made up the 2011–2012 WPSPU Executive Committee were: Eniola Aluko, Rachel Buehler, Allison Falk, Leslie Osborne, Christie Rampone, Becky Sauerbrunn, Cat Whitehill, and Kristine Lilly (member emeritus). These players were responsible for advising the Executive Director, setting union priorities, approving union bargaining positions and proposals, and responding to WPS counter-proposals, among other activities.[63] Active non-allocated players, including unpaid amateur players, announced their formation of a players' association on May 15, 2017, as the first step toward forming a union. Membership is limited to non-allocated players because allocated players are members of their own federation-affiliated labor organizations and negotiate contracts covering NWSL play with their respective national federations instead of the league or clubs.[64][65][66] The association is led by civil rights attorney and former WPS players' union organizer Meghann Burke.[67] The association was legally recognized by the NWSL on November 15, 2018, allowing players to bring formal requests to the league.[68]

Clubs[edit]

City/Region WUSA WPS NWSL
Atlanta Atlanta Beat Atlanta Beat None
Boston Boston Breakers Boston Breakers None
Florida None magicJack Orlando Pride
Missouri None Saint Louis Athletica FC Kansas City
New York New York Power Western New York Flash Sky Blue FC
Philadelphia Philadelphia Charge Philadelphia Independence None
San Francisco Bay Area San Jose CyberRays FC Gold Pride None
Southern California San Diego Spirit Los Angeles Sol None
Wake Forest Carolina Courage None North Carolina Courage
Washington, D.C. Washington Freedom Washington Freedom Washington Spirit

League championships[edit]

WUSA WPS NWSL
The Founders Cup (named in honor of the 20 founding players) was awarded to the winner of a four-team, single-elimination postseason playoff. WUSA's sudden death overtime was 15 minutes long (2-seven and a half minute periods) and only used in the play-offs. The top four WPS teams, based on their regular season finishes, qualified for the playoffs. In the First Round, the third-ranked team hosted the fourth-ranked team. The winner of that match advances to the Super Semifinal, where they traveled to the second-ranked team. Finally, the regular season first-ranked team hosted the winner of the Super Semifinal in the WPS Championship match. This format, fairly unusual in the American sports landscape, preserves the knockout-style postseason most American sports fans are familiar with, while also highly favoring the regular season first-ranked team. The winner of the NWSL Championship, the final match of the NWSL Playoffs, determines that season's league champion. The playoff tournament is organized by the league in a format similar to other North American professional sports leagues. At the conclusion of the regular season, the top four clubs in the standings earn a berth to the tournament. Since playoff games cannot end in ties, those are broken by two straight 15-minute extra time periods, followed by shootouts of best-of-five rounds plus extra rounds as needed if still drawn. The top four teams in the final standings at the end of the NWSL season qualify for the playoffs and are seeded in order of their record.[69] The initial determining factor for a team's position in the standings is most points earned, with three points earned for a win, one point for a draw, and zero points for a loss. If at least two teams tie in point total, when determining rank and playoff qualification and seeding, the NWSL uses the following tiebreaker rules,[70] going down the list until all teams are ranked. Coin tosses (2 teams) or draw of lots (at least 3 teams) will be used as the last resort if all other tiebreakers fail.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]


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